In this video, Kyle Strobel claims that “prayer thrives when it’s done honestly” and points us to the Psalms as an example of that honesty.
The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.
When I think about the kind of one thing that someone can give themselves to for maybe a more rich prayer life Colossians 4:2 comes to mind, the call to be watchful in prayer. So what’s interesting about prayer that I don’t think a lot of people really attend to is that all of your temptations in the Christian life, all your struggles, all your questions, all these deep strategies you have that are actually more mired in sin than in grace they all come out in prayer. This is why prayer for many people is a very disorienting reality. Prayer is very lonely place for many people, it’s a very confusing place for many people, prayer where kind of wrestling through . . . what’s actually happening here? What am I even supposed to be doing here? And the problem is we usually haven’t been trained how to be watchful. But prayer, to use the constant refrain from the book of Hebrews, is a way of drawing near to God. And we pray by drawing near in Christ Jesus, our great high priest who has gone beyond the veil that we can actually enter God’s presence. But one of the things that happens in God’s presence is that you come out of yourself.
So when you think of 1 John 3:19–20, we are told there’s a Christian who is before him who’s in his presence and their heart condemns them. Notice that John assumes that in God’s presence, at times, your heart will condemn you, that for a Christian, that’s a live reality. Well, what does he do? Does he send you back to, you need to get a better prayer technique? You need to try harder? No. He says God is greater than your heart, and he knows everything. Notice there’s a godward movement even in the midst of a heart that seems to be doing the opposite of what God’s about. That kind of isn’t interpreting God’s presence well. See, prayer is always a place to be utterly honest with God. It’s a place to wrestle through all the ways that we seek to use God rather than be with him.
You know, I’m a seminary professor, and one of the things I constantly see with my students is my students will often spend quite a lot of time really trying to get their doctrine of atonement right, and they usually do a pretty good job. But then when they pray, you know, many of them begin trying to atone for their sins, that’s interesting. In prayer, in the presence of God, suddenly their theology kind of breaks down. I have many students who are very vicious against themselves in prayer because subconsciously what they’re hoping will happen is that in prayer, I’m harsh on myself. If I see my sin, if I wake up in prayer and realize I’ve actually been sleeping, not praying it all, and I feel really guilty. They are harsh on themselves because deep down they’re hoping if I’m harsh on myself, maybe God won’t be harsh on me. That’s kind of a pagan spirituality at heart. That maybe there’s something I can do to kind of get my hooks in God so that he’s the God I need him to be or want him to be? But in prayer, we’re like Job, we’re before the whirlwind. There’s no hooks I could get into God there but in prayer is the only way I can come in the presence of God in Christ Jesus.
To be watchful to attend to all the strategies I’ve developed in my sin to try to manage God, to try to control God, to try to prove to God that I somehow have got my life put together when none of those things can work. Prayer, and the very purpose of prayer, is to embrace the truth that we find in Hebrews 4:12–13 about the word of God that it is living and active, it is a double-edged sword. And what that sword does is it lays bare the thoughts and intentions of our heart, it leaves us naked and exposed before God and in that place I can pray.
And so we think about how do I learn this kind of watchfulness? Pray the psalms. Because as you pray through the psalms, one of the first things you’ll realize is I can’t say that to God. And that’s a funny inclination about God’s Word. See, the psalms are training you how to speak to God and how to speak in truth. And so you see quite a lot of lament in the Psalms where they’re naming evil in the world and they’re saying, “God, where are you in this?” They’re naming the truth of their struggle with God. Pray the Lord’s Prayer and allow that to condition your own praying, allow that to form how all of your prayers are formed. But as you do so, as you pray the psalms, as you pray the Lord’s Prayer, allow those prayers to open you to a watchfulness. Do I actually want to pray these things? Do I want to be forgiven as I have forgiven? Because that’s pretty uncomfortable if I’m honest. How do I wrestle with that? When the psalmist demands to know if God’s fallen asleep on the job can I say that in prayer, or deeply do I believe that what God really wants from me is for me to get my act together and say the right sorts of things? Because if you try to pray as you’re supposed to pray, your prayer life goes to die in that place.
Prayer thrives when it’s done honestly, and when it’s done at the foot of the cross because there’s now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. And so we could come and truly present ourselves to God as Paul encourages the church at Rome.